Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I Just Don't Agree": The Cry of the Unteachable

Imagine that you were a D.A. arguing with solid evidence against the innocence of a serial killer on trial. You present your case. You refute the arguments and evidence of the opposing side. And you rest your case, knowing that this is a slam dunk with all of the evidence and arguments on your side. Then the verdict from the jury comes in: "Innocent." "What?" you say to yourself. Afterward, you ask an older juror why it is that she voted for that verdict, and she replies, "Well, he looked like such a nice young man, I didn't think he could do that." You then proceed to tell her that this is not an objection to all of the evidence in support of him committing the crime. "We have witnesses. We have confessions. We have DNA. We have video of him doing it. And we know that nice young men, both throughout history and in our own day, often commit some of the most egregious crimes on earth. Hence, the case is clear that he did it, and your objection doesn't hold water. It doesn't counter anything that was presented to you as a solid argument." She responds by simply saying, "Well, I just disagree."

Now, is this a rational statement? Is it that two people just disagree on the same arguments and evidence, or is that their disagreement is a result of one of them being completely irrational and having no argument at all? I think we would all see that it is of the latter (unless there are any old jurors out their who disagree with that assessment).

What has happened here is a common occurrence in theological and ethical discussions as well. A solid argument will be presented. The objections will be shown to have no weight in refuting the argument. The person will essentially be left without an argument to stand on, but then they will say, "Well, I just don't agree." But what does this mean? Doesn't it really mean that he or she does not agree because he or she is basing his or her decisions on irrational opinion? Isn't much of irrational opinion just pure emotion based on mistakes that have been made in one's thinking? In other words, isn't the person just really wrong, the other one right, but he or she is just too wrapped up in him or herself to admit it merely because he or she doesn't want to believe it?

These people are unteachable. It's not that they just don't see it. It's that they don't want to see it. And this is an important lesson for Christians everywhere: If someone is unteachable, don't teach them anymore. You are wasting your time, and you are actually breaking a command given to you by Christ:

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your  pearls  before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Now, this is hard for us, because a true servant of God wants to save people. He or she wants people to repent of wrong thinking and submit themselves to God in love and joy. He or she does not wish to be the herald of judgment and death, but of salvation and life, because he or she cares for the people being corrected. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world filled with people who don't want to believe/submit to Christ, and that brings us to tears, but we need to obey Christ ourselves nonetheless and move on. To be sure there are people with the spirit of Jonah, whose attitude is condemned by God in Scripture, who just like to deal out judgment because they hate people, but that has never been the attitude of the true prophet, who weeps when his message is one of final judgment.

But when do we know if someone is unteachable? How do we distinguish between someone who just doesn't see versus someone who doesn't want to see? Let me give you some guidelines by looking at common logical fallacies people who don't want to see cling to.

Ad hominem
An ad hominem fallacy is one where the individual attacks the person rather than the argument. So, for instance, imagine that you are standing at the edge of a pit that you just climbed out of using a ladder you found within it, and suddenly see a woman standing in it where you once were. You yell to her and ask why she's in there, and she tells you that she fell in. You then see the ladder you used to climb out and tell her that there is a ladder behind her in the pit, and that she can use that to get out of it. She responds by saying to you, "I didn't see any ladder in here, so I don't think there is one." You respond by saying, "No, there is a ladder. I can see it from where I am and I just used it. You may have just missed it because it's dark and hard to see for you." "Oh," she replies, "You're just so much better than me because you can see it? That's just your opinion. Who are you to tell me something about my own life. You're not me. If you think there's a ladder, fine, but I don't think there is one." You again reply by saying, "No, you're wrong. I can see it plainly. It's right there. Just look at the evidence." She then responds, "You are so arrogant. Everyone's wrong but you. Thanks, Mr. Know-it-all, but other people have opinions too." At this point you just have to walk away. A week later they find her dead in the pit with a note in her hand, "If only I had a ladder."

Now, look at the woman's argumentation. She didn't actually have an argument at all. Your assertion was that there was a ladder and that you knew that because you could see it. In other words, you had evidence and a good argument that there was in fact a ladder. Her rebuttal wasn't an argument. It didn't refute anything that you said. It just attacked you. They'll try to find anything they can against you: past sins (and of course we all have those, so they always have an easy out if they know you--a prophet is not honored in his own home for this reason) or a current sin (in this case, they usually just try to accuse of being an arrogant jerk, since they may or may not have anything else more accessible). People who attack you rather than thinking about the argument you are giving are not teachable. You need to just move on from this person. This isn't simply a mistake they're making in their form of argument. It's a proclamation that they will listen to no one but themselves. Mourn if you will, but wipe the dust from your feet, and go try to save people who will listen.

A subcategory of this is the fallacy of "poisoning the well." This is done when someone tries to attribute what you're saying to some other disreputable figure or group, so they don't have to deal with the actual argument. There is also the root fallacy that says this belief was held by so and so, who we presumably don't like, and hence is a bad belief. All of these are fallacious, and may indicate that the person just doesn't want to believe what is true.

Begging the Question
Aside from ad hominem, the modern man's favorite instrument to use in order to duck out of the responsibility of following the truth is the fallacy of begging the question. This is where a person simply reasserts what they need to prove. They just restate their conclusion as though it was an argument for that conclusion. People do this to me all of the time. I had an atheist give me the following argument:

Premise 1: The universe is all that there is.
Premise 2: What is known is all that can be verified to exist.
Premise 3: Only the physical universe can be known.
Conclusion: Therefore, only the physical universe exists.
Implication: Therefore, the metaphysical does not exist.
Premise: God is metaphysical.
Conclusion: Therefore, God does not exist.

Sound good to you? Yeah, me neither. Notice that (1) Premise 1 assumes a specific definition of "universe." Usually we just mean the physical cosmos, not everything that exists. If it means "everything that exists," then premise 2 is begging the question of atheism already, since atheism asserts that all that can be known must come through empirical verification, which is denied by the Christian and is at the very base of the disagreement. In other words, the atheist actually has to prove this first. (2) Premise 3 also begs the question, then, because it argues that only the physical universe can be known, but this again is the very point of disagreement between atheism and Christianity. One cannot merely assert the conclusion in the premises. This is begging the question. Look, I can do the same thing.

Premise 1: All that exists is made up of both a physical and metaphysical realm.
Premise 2: What can be known is made up of either empirical verification and belief in a report from someone who exists in the metaphysical realm.
Premise 3: The metaphysical and physical realm can be known through these means (i.e., they can be known through both empirical verification and belief in a report given by transcendent revelation).
Premise 4: God has given us such a report.
Conclusion: God exists.

Each of these arguments just assumes what it needs to prove. The two groups are just trading opinions. Actual arguments need to be made instead. Otherwise, we're just arguing without an argument. Now, I've encountered this quite a bit among Christians as well. For instance, one of my arguments against birth control is that it assumes naturalism in its view of the conception event and that children are the product of a mechanical biological system (when we don't want them that is). Hence, a person can talk about using birth control as completely acceptable from a moral standpoint merely because they're just interfering with a natural process. God is not involved in a willful decision to give them a child at His discretion, or they would conclude that they are actually moving against God Himself, which I take would probably be considered by most Christians as a bad thing. When I point out arguments from Scripture that God is intimately involved in the creation of children (something every Christian I know believes when they want to have children), they respond by reasserting reasons why they don't think it's immoral to use it:

"It's just responsible for us to control the amount of children we have because of X, Y and Z."

But, again, this assumes that it's not only moral, but that it would be immoral not to use it! But where is the biblical argument against the idea that such a practice moves against the hand of God? Where is the argument supporting the idea that God wants us to practice it? And how does this argument not assume that God is immoral and irresponsible for trying to give you a child, when in your estimation it would be wrong for you to have one at this moment, in the first place? You see, this all assumes that God doesn't give children, that children are simply the result of a mechanical biological process. They are just products of our biology and our decisions to use our biology as we see fit. But God is not there. If God is in the mix at all, He's only the One who originally gave the ability to have children, not the One who actually continues to create them. Hence, upon these assumptions, we ought to just tell children that God only made people, not them specifically. They're just people created by us, either as originally wanted or as happy accidents. As soon as we assume the Scripture, however, God is intimately involved in will and power to create every child that would exist. There is no such thing as a child that should not exist because of X, Y, and Z, because no child is merely created by a biological process alone. Hence, since it is impossible to have a child that should not exist, since God is the One who decides to give each one, and He doesn't make mistakes or do what is evil, there is no reason to use birth control for the reasons given. In other words, the only reason Christians argue this way is because they beg the question. They assume what they need to prove, and I have tried to show over the years, through various arguments, that what is assumed is false. What is the response I usually get? "Well, I just don't agree."

Now, it may be that this person is just duped by this fallacy and will wake up when you point it out to them. So they may still be a teachable person. The problem is when you point it out and they still "disagree." They disagree based on irrationality, like the juror, who cannot believe otherwise because she does not want to believe otherwise. If you hear the words, "I just don't agree," then, you need to just move on. Stop teaching these people. You're only accumulating more wrath for them because you're giving them more knowledge and less excuse in the day of judgment (i.e., you're only increasing their lashes and if you care for them, you need to just stop).

Straw Man
A straw man argument exists when one has not presented what you argue accurately. Now, this can be committed by everyone. A lot of times this just exists because of misunderstanding. It doesn't actually say anything toward whether the person is teachable. They may just have misunderstood what you were saying. That's a pretty common occurrence, and I know I've committed it more than once.
However, it is also possible to do this because the person wants to feel better about disagreeing with what you've said. In other words, it's a tactic that comforts the rebellious who don't want to believe the truth. They don't want to represent your arguments accurately because if they did then they would have to deal with them, and you might be right. This, again, is a practice of emotion, namely, of fear.
So if Bobby argues that atheists have no basis for a transcendent view of morality, and the atheist restates Bobby's argument as ridiculously saying that atheists can't be moral people, because the atheist doesn't want to come to grips with the actual argument, then he is merely misrepresenting the position out of fear that the argument may be right. If he does the same thing because he misunderstood Bobby, that's another story. He may or may not still be teachable.
Hence, a straw man is erected because it's easier to knock over a straw man than a real one. It makes it look like the person has won an argument when in fact he never dealt with the argument at hand. This is a common fallacy behind which the fearful man hides to comfort himself in his rebellion.
So if a Christian says, "Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and lives forevermore, and here are the many witnesses to that," and the unbeliever replies, "So you're saying Jesus is a cosmic zombie?" this is a strawman. It distorts what is being claimed in the argument by reducing it to the point of presenting it without qualifications that would make it much more plausible in the ears of its audience.

False Dichotomy
Here is another favorite of the modern man. If it's square then it can't be yellow. Um, no, it can be both at the same time. If a leopard has spots then it doesn't have fur. If God is three, He cannot be One. If we do good, we don't have to refrain from evil. If Jesus was God then He wasn't a man. If God predestines us to believe, then we don't need to choose to believe. If sex can be seen as having a pleasurable purpose then it doesn't need to be procreative. If God's good will is accomplished through evil, we shouldn't do good.
All of these are false dichotomies. They use one truth to combat another, but both are equally true and compatible. They're not contradictory truths. Hence, saying that one is true in order to refute the other is a logical fallacy.

There are others that are used, but these seem to top them all. No one is proving anything with these arguments. They exist either through misunderstanding or rebellion against the truth. You can discover which when you press them. If the final response is, "Well, I just don't agree," then weep, move on, and go tell him who has ears to hear, so that he can hear it. Your work here is done. Be faithful to give it to God now, and let go. The person who is unteachable is afraid to listen to you, and as such, you will only make yourself an object of ridicule and violence. Some will enact violence through mocking. Others through gossip and slander behind your back. Others by just removing you from their lives. And still others through verbal or physical hostility. This accomplishes nothing. Of course, I'd rather have the mocking and slanderous type than the verbally and physically violent, as one can hurt you emotionally but the other can get you stoned or crucified on top of that. Such may be the case, but if we can identify when people don't want to believe, after giving them some time and a few tries at least, we need to just obey our Lord and hand out our treasure to those who see it as such. Afterall, pigs don't know the value of pearls. The slop of logical fallacies has more value to them because it allows them to remain in the mire.

The way of a  fool  is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Prov 12:15)

A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in asserting his own opinions. (Prov 18:2)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Misquoting Paul: A Correction to the Use and Abuse of First Corinthians 3 in the Lordship Debate

I sometimes think that evangelicals have two Bibles: one major one and one minor one that is largely used to support the major one. The major one is their experience, comprised of both their inherited beliefs/traditions and encounters in daily life. Their minor one is the actual Bible. The minor Bible is then used to support their major source of authority (or primary Bible) of experience.

This can be seen in the way they interpret biblical passages. They tend to have views of texts long before they ever really study them. When they do get down to study them, they often cannot see past the wall that has already been constructed through experience. It becomes rather frustrating for the teacher who attempts to teach the Bible within a sea of alternate interpretations that are born not of diligent study, but of rumor and opinion.

One of these texts, which is a common one cited by the non-lordship camp, is First Corinthians 3:10-15. The text states as follows:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is [to be] revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

To many evangelicals and non-lordship advocates this passage argues that one may not live a godly lifestyle, but he will just suffer the loss of extra rewards for it. He himself will be saved "as through fire." So the foundation which is laid is the gospel of Christ (we all agree on that point), and the way that one builds his or her life upon it (i.e., which in their interpretation is doing good, which is gold, silver, and precious stones, or doing wrong, which is wood, hay, and straw) does not in any way indicate the nature of their status with God. They may be saved even if they have lived a life of wood, hay, and straw. This is an interpretation you will hear in numerous churches around the world.

However, as always, context rules the day in letting us know what Paul is actually saying here. Let's look at the context, then, for a moment. Paul has been arguing against factions that like certain teachers over others. His point is that everyone should be teaching the same foundation (i.e., the gospel), and that some have different roles to play in the discipleship of the church. Some plant, some water, but God causes the growth. Here is what he says in the verses preceding:

For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not [mere] men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave [opportunity] to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

Notice the labor being discussed and the rewards being spoken of. His topic of discussion is not good and bad works. That's not the context at all. The topic instead is what a teacher teaches, i.e., whether a teacher is teaching human wisdom (i.e., his own experience and opinion) either mingled in or above the wisdom of God (which I will assume in Pauline theology is the Scripture--see 2 Tim 3:15-17). If he teaches human wisdom, his teaching is wood, hay and straw, and it will not last for eternity, but that teacher may still be saved nonetheless. All human wisdom is not heresy. It's just not profitable for the same things that the Scripture is profitable for. However, Paul does give a warning to follow that since the church is God's building, His temple, any teacher that destroys that temple with his teaching will, in fact, be destroyed himself. So false teaching in terms of doctrine and practice is not what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the wood, hay, and straw. The teaching may be true, but irrelevant to one's salvation. It may be good advice, but not bring one closer to being transformed by Christ. It may be false, but be something false about an irrelevant or minor issue. But it cannot be something destructive toward the faith of others and the church as a whole, as Paul continues in vv. 16-23:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.  Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, "[He is] the one who catches the wise in their craftiness"; and again, "The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless." So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.

Notice that Paul has not left his subject. He's still discussing the factions that like so and so's teaching over the teaching of the others; but Paul's point is that all of the truth taught by these teachers belongs to them. If everyone is teaching the Scripture in light of the gospel, and not just teaching human opinion/wisdom, then there is no need to be divided. The problem seems to be that many were getting into philosophy and teaching that instead of the Word, or at least, mixed in heavily with it (perhaps even using it as an interpretive guide of the Scripture, as evangelicals use their experience as their interpretive guide rather than using the orthodox teaching of the gospel and other texts of Scripture as their guide to interpretation). In any case, the point is that this text has absolutely zero to do with whether one will be saved, even if he lives a disobedient life toward Christ.

Instead, what Paul does say about that matter can be found in numerous texts, such as First Corinthians 5-6. In Chapter 5, Paul places a sexually immoral man under church discipline in the hope that he will repent and be saved, even though his flesh might be destroyed through the discipline of handing him over to the devil. In other words, the only hope of salvation that man has is repentance after having been disciplined. If he doesn't repent, there is no hope for him, as Paul will continue to say in 6:9-11:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor [the] covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

When speaking of this subject in Galatians, a book that many might leave thinking that one's works didn't matter in regard to evidencing salvation in a person's life, Paul corrects antinomianism by saying:

Do not be deceived, God is not  mocked ; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, specifically speaking, to those who are of the household of the faith.

Hence, Paul does not teach that a person who lives his or her life under their own self-direction is still saved. They evidence that Christ is not their Lord, and thus, He is not their Savior either. What he argues in First Corinthians 3 is that it is possible for a teacher to lose his reward for faithfully teaching the Scripture, which is the wisdom of the Spirit, and yet still be saved. But teachers who do so ought to think carefully about whether they are teaching human experience and good practical advice over the transforming Word of God that transcends human experience and philosophy. They ought to especially take care because if their teaching works toward destroying God's people, as they are God's temple, these teachers themselves will be destroyed.

The great irony, then, of this passage is that it speaks against the very human experience and tradition that is often used to interpret it. The question becomes, Is the false teaching about this passage one where the teacher will still be saved as through fire, or will he be destroyed for undermining the necessity of the Lordship of Christ for salvation? Either way, however, what we do know is that if the teacher repents, he will be saved. So perhaps we might just advise that such is the best course of action to take, and leave it at that.

This is, yet again, another display of why context is important. The best thing evangelicals can do in interpreting the Bible is to stop removing it from its context, start reading whole books, and not just individual texts, and start reading the entire diatribe within the book within that context. If this is done, we are sure to see a proper building of God's temple in the unity of truth, and a church that is growing toward maturity in Christ.

And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him who is the head, [even] Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:11-16)

Monday, November 28, 2011

No, "All" Doesn't Mean "All" All the Time

One of the big blockbusters of the 80’s was the movie “Footloose.” I’m sure you’re familiar with it. We might think it should have won an award for worst use of the Bible in a movie ever, but if you’ve ever seen any horror or apocalyptic movie, you’d rank it as second tier to these. However, the scene where Kevin Bacon walks in and reads about David dancing, in order to somehow justify putting on a modern dance, is just too funny, as though a minister would actually have been stumped by that. Obviously, David is dancing to and for the Lord. He dances in celebration of victory and in thanksgiving. He’s not dancing as foreplay to sexual immorality, as modern dancing usually is. What is so funny about it is that any minister worth his two cents would immediately know that context determines what kind of dancing is being talked about. The context is everything, as it lets us know if we’ve interpreted a word or phrase correctly in terms of its referents (i.e., to what type of dance or whatever the text is talking about). This brings me to another word that is misused by many people due to lack of considering context: the word “all.”

“All means all and that’s all that it means.” Ever hear this from the pulpit of a fundamentalist church? It’s a common rebuttal in fundamentalist circles against the Calvinistic claim that God does not seek to save all people. And there are a few passages, if just read with the assumption that “all” means “all,” where it seems that God does want to save all people. Here are a few examples:

 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. (Titus 2:11)

Read very superficially, and without any knowledge of the original language (or frankly, just any knowledge concerning how language works, period), one simply concludes, based upon these texts, that God wants to save everyone without exception. “All” means “all” and that’s all that it means.

The problem with this, however, is that “all” doesn’t just mean “all” in the sense that the fundamentalist is using it. In fact, it almost always doesn’t mean everything without exception, or in linguistic terms, it’s quantification is not always, and indeed only rarely, unlimited. In other words, “all” means all sorts of things.

This is because words work in a context. They don’t carry meanings that transcend the context in such a way as to ignore or determine the meaning of what is being said as a whole. Hence, when the word “all” is applied to something unlimited, it carries an unlimited connotation with it, but when in a context of something limited, it does not. Ergo, context is king. It rules the words within it. It fashions them and gives nuance to them, so that communication is possible. To ignore the context is to ignore what is being said. It’s just that plain and simple. Let me give you some examples before I explain these passages in context:

If I say to a group of three people, after a fun-filled outing, “A good time was had by all,” the “all” there does not mean everyone in the entire world went out with us and had fun. It is limited by the context to refer to the three people that were included in the outing. “All” does not just mean all. Now, in walks the fundamentalist who accuses his wife as going out with us when she was supposed to stay home and watch the kids. She swears to him that she did, but he doesn’t believe her, because I just said, “A good time was had by all.” In his logic, this means that a good time was had by everyone in the world (including his wife—and himself, even though he wasn’t there). Of course, this is absurd. He would never conclude this, because he too knows that “all” has a context and does not refer to everyone in the world. But what if someone tried to convince him that I had just said that his wife did go because I used the word “all”? Would anyone take this seriously? No, and neither should you when you hear this from the pulpit.

Again, let’s suppose that I hand out an assignment to write a paper on the theological diversity of the Old Testament, and say, “I expect everyone to be done by next week.” Should the class conclude that everyone in the world is now assigned the paper and needs to get it done by next week? Should they go home and tell their sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, to get crackin’ on the paper? Again, we understand that context is important.

Context is made up of the other words used in a text, the historical setting, and the audience being addressed. To ignore any of these in one’s study of the word “all” is just irresponsible and will lead to a misunderstanding of what is being said.

Now, second to this is a difference in language. In our language, we express quantification in different ways, and usually we add words to express different kinds of quantification. So instead of using just the word “all,” we use “all of you,” “all of them,” “every,” “everyone,” “all kinds of,” “all sorts of,” “entire,” “whole,” “a large portion of,” “a good amount of,” “the bulk of,” etc. We do this because these words provide context to what we mean.
In Hebrew and Greek, however, this is not usually the case. The words lk and pa~v are used to refer to all of the above. The context must determine what exactly is meant by them.

Hence, when the Bible says that God killed off kôl “all” the livestock (Exod 9:6). Well, all means all, right? The only problem is that in vv. 19-21 the Egyptians still have livestock that are living. What “all” actually means here is “all kinds of,” referring to the fact that all species of livestock were affected, not just some species.

Again, the Israelites kill off “all” of the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua (24:18—“drove out” likely means “to destroy” in these war contexts), but in the book of Judges, numerous Canaanite groups are walking around just fine and dandy (in fact, they’re oppressing the Israelite tribes because they’re so numerous). What happened to “all” there? “All” obviously refers to a larger portion of, or even the representative powers of, not everyone without exception.

So what do we make of the three passages cited above?

In First Timothy 2:1, Paul says that he wants the Christians he is instructing through Timothy to pray for everyone (“all men”). He clarifies what he means by “all” here as including kings and those in authority. Apparently, the issue was that many Christians began to think that the gospel was just for the poor and oppressed, and not for those who have power. Those in power were seen as evil (and there is much support for such an idea when one views the types of activities rulers were involved in at the time). But Paul here is saying that people within all classes or positions should be prayed for, not just people within lower social groups. This provides context for what he means by saying that God wishes for “all” men to be saved. In other words, “all” refers to people from all ranks in life, not just a certain kind of person. This is the “all” of classification or kind (species) again. It refers to the fact that all social classes are represented in Christianity and out of all of them, Christians are made. To put it plainly, God desires that people from every class be saved, not just people from one class. This is talking, then, about quantification in terms of social groups, not every person in the world.

In Second Peter 3, Peter is arguing against the idea that Christ will not return. Instead, he says that Christians should consider it as God’s patience toward the “all” He does not desire to perish. But to whom does the “all” refer here? This is even made explicit by additional words to pas in the context. The all is “all of you” (3:9). When referring to people who are not saved, Peter speaks of “they” or “their” and talks about them as ungodly men for whom the coming destruction is being reserved (vv. 5-7). God is patient, not toward the entire world, as though time has something to do with people repenting. All time does is make sinners harder and worse sinners than they were before. Time does nothing. But if God has decided to elect Christians from all places and times, having set the time of their birth and repentance in the future, then He awaits for them to come to Him, and His patience, therefore, is toward “you,” i.e., the people of the Christian community, i.e., the elect. Hence, it is none of “you” that He wishes to lose, but wants all of “you” (i.e., those of your group as opposed to the ungodly who will not believe and are being reserved for the coming judgment) to come to repentance. The “all” here, then, refers to the elect, present and future, not everyone in the world. Again, pas is almost never used this way, especially when it refers to groups of people or distinguishes between one group and another.

Finally, in Titus 2, Paul says this as a conclusion to what he just said in verses 1-10 concerning how Christians in different age groups and stations in life should conduct themselves toward one another. His point is that salvation has appeared to “all sorts of men,” or “all kinds of people,” not just people within one particular age group or social class. It doesn’t mean that salvation has been shown to all people on the planet (that’s not true within any system but a universalist one).

Context is important. Words are determined by them, rather than determining them; but I fear, after even making it clear, that many will not allow their traditions, built upon the sand of a bad understanding of the word “all,” gained from an absurd lexicography that doesn’t allow context to nuance the word, will simply go on to believe otherwise. What has always baffled me, of course, is how they can ignore all of the verses that indicate God’s election and desire to withhold salvation and repentance from certain people without seeing themselves as being biblically unfaithful. The Calvinist can explain the passages above with a robust lexicography that exegetes the passage from what it says. Can the Arminian do the same with passages such as John 12:37-40:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, [yet] they were not believing in Him. [This was] to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them."

Notice, “for this reason they could not believe.” For what reason? Because God was fulfilling His Word/decree concerning them. They were not going to be given the power to believe. In fact, when it says “they could not believe,” the Greek literally says, “they did not have the power/ability to believe.” This is reminiscent of Christ’s words earlier in 6:44-45: "No one can [lit. “has the power/ability to”] come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. "It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.

It is not only important that the immediate context be considered, but the biblical context as well. Hence, the Calvinist can exegete these passages faithfully without distorting them, but the Arminian must ignore or rearrange them in some way in order to get them to say something else. The great irony, of course, is that using the other texts to undermine texts like the one above, because of the linguistically naïve notion that “all” just means “all” ends up denying what “all” really means within its respective contexts.

(As an aside, what got me thinking about this again was this post by Dan Wallace concerning 1 Thes 5:21 Obviously, I don’t care for Dan’s shout out to Piper’s Christian hedonism and the claim that the Pharisees are the ones who restrict people [I can’t think of something more restricting than the Sermon on the Mount that is spoken in contradiction to the less restrictive, and excuse-oriented, practices of the Pharisees]—I find his interpretation of them to be superficial—but I do agree with the main thrust of his exegesis and what he says there in general. I'll likely discuss the New Testament view of Christian freedom and contrast with the modern evangelical view--which are not the same thing-- in a later post)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

For These I Am Truly Thankful

Thanksgiving always makes us think about what is truly important in life. For us, Christ and His sacrifice that have shown forth the love and favor of God upon us while we were yet sinners is truly the uber Thanksgiving acknowledgment to make. Where would we be headed without Him? So for God's unfathomable love and mercy in Christ, we are truly thankful.

But I also want to discuss God's love and favor upon Allison and I through our children. They each have taught us lessons of God's providence and compassion on our lives, and much of it has humbled me in so many ways.

Jonathan, our firstborn, came at a time when I was planning on taking the academic world by storm. My longtime goal, to go to Cambridge University in order to get my PhD, was shattered at his birth. I realized the difficulty of going, and that it would just not be possible anymore, so when I had the application ready to go, I didn't even send it in. Allison and I were committed to let the Lord decide the "when" and "how many" of our children, so we let Him decide, but down deep, I was still holding on to my own self-direction, and even though complying because of a principle I did not yet fully understand, I was angry that my dream was destroyed. But then something happened that had not happened before. I began to love someone else unconditionally. I never realized that I hadn't before, but when Jonathan came, he taught me to love. I then soon realized that what God had given me was not a backlash for trusting Him, but something more valuable than gold. In fact, when I speak of my children now, that's exactly what I refer to them as. They are my gold. Jonathan's name, which means, "YHWH has given" became a lesson from God that he was given by God, in God's wisdom (rather than in my own), and I began to understand why what it is that Allison and I had decided to do in giving God the control was so important and the best thing. So my feelings caught up with my theory and practice, and Jonathan became a symbol of trusting in God's goodness toward us for all of our children. His middle name, Michael, which is a Hebrew question that means, "Who is like God?" is also an apt lesson, as God taught us through Jonathan that no one knows what is the right or wrong course to take in the moment, but God alone. There are no better hands in which to place one's life and the lives of one's children.

Alexander is my little "Conqueror of Mankind." He is the one always asking questions. He is my mathematician, my logician. He thinks very technically as a child, but that will soon turn into an asset to him, as he learns to use his logic to question the foolishness of mankind. It is my prayer and thanksgiving to God that he is beginning to fulfill his name in this way, so that no human philosophy and evil in the world will be able to dominate him, but only the wisdom of God that transcends the box in which all of the rest of mankind is held captive.
He too came at a time when human wisdom would have said, No way. This was the first of hopefully his many escapes from human foolishness. The pride of man has also not taken over him, as he is the eager servant of others, like Christ, always quick to wash the feet of those who may have need of it. The love that we learned from Jonathan, and the understanding of the rightfulness of our decision to trust God, grew bigger with him.

Peter is my sweet boy. He truly is the type of rock to which his name refers. He is always the one reminding me to read the Bible to them. He is the one asking me question after question about God. He, like a little David, makes up his own songs to God and sings them to the family. The mischievous ways as a little boy have given way to his concern and care of his younger siblings. It is my prayer and thanksgiving to God that he is already showing signs of living on the foundation of Christ as His Lord. With Peter, again, our love and understanding of the rightfulness of what God had decided grew even larger.

Lily is my little princess. She is perhaps the cutest little girl on the planet. Lily came at a time that was especially profound for my wife. As my only daughter, she was providentially given by God in a time of uncertainty and turmoil. Allison was 8 months pregnant with her when I was abruptly and unexpectedly fired from my pastoral position in Maryland. When you are a pastor, your whole life is put into the ministry. It's not just like losing a regular job. It's really the uprooting of almost everything you are and have come to rely upon (in an earthly sense). If anyone who believed the pagan idea espoused by the friends of Job, we were certainly cursed and abandoned by God. But that's where Lily's name comes in. Her name isn't actually a name in Scripture. It's, of course, the name of a flower. My wife had always liked it and we decided to name our child, if she was a girl, Lily long before we saw any further significance with it. The week we left the church, Lily was born. In a time when we didn't know what would become of us and our family. Having no savings and only a couple months of severance, as well as many months (and years) of turmoil to follow, God gave us a little girl. And this is what the passage in Scripture, from which my wife got her name, says:

"And who of you by being worried can add a [single] hour to his life? "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is [alive] today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, [will He] not much more [clothe] you? You of little faith! "Do not worry then, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear for clothing?' "For the people who are without God eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

What would seem as one calamity after another, and all of the humility that comes with it, has taught us to trust in God all the more. Lily is our sweet little girl, who in all of our lack, wants to pursue motherhood anyway. And I am grateful for this, and pray that she will remain on that path so that she can one day come to understand and love as we have been given understanding and love by God through her.

Andrew is my little, sweet, two-year-old tornado. If a room is clean, and he enters it, it will soon turn into a full fledged disaster area needing emergency federal aid. If a box of doughnuts is left open, and he is left alone in the room with it, it will be empty within seconds. He is without fear of retribution. But he is also the one who approaches everyone without fear. His name also means "manly," which is very fitting. He'll walk up to strangers and start playing with them (as with all of our children, their strengths are also a potential danger, but that too calls us to trust that God will direct them). In the Bible, Andrew is often seen as bringing people to Christ. He is the one who is not afraid to approach others and tell them about the Lord. I pray that this will be his future as well, and am thankful that his lack of fear is already showing. Again, he has increased our understanding and love.

Edmund is my only child who does not have a biblical name. It is true that Alexander's name is taken from the great Greek conqueror, but the name does appear in the Bible (although that particular Alexander is a bad guy there). Edmund is actually taken from C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. We liked his name, but even more so his character. Edmund in the series is a symbol of redemption. He is a selfish and self-willed boy, who sins, and when brought to repentance, becomes a great man of wisdom and might. To us, Edmund is a symbol of the gospel.
He, again, was born in a time when human wisdom would have had us do otherwise. In the rolling of many eyes, and the slander of many tongues, he has been born into our lives, much like the gospel itself. I am thankful for this little one, who continually smiles, as if to say, "It's alright. God has brought what is good and not what is evil into your life. I am good thing." He, like the gospel, is something that others would judge as an imposition of life, a further burden that a life already loaded down with burdens does not need. But he is an alleviation of burden, precisely, because we have come to understand the choice we made to trust in God, something we knew we should do in theory, but we did not understand so long ago. We are done letting the world have a say in how we feel about letting God direct our paths. We are done with letting the devil tempt us from seeing our family (as God has made it) as a good thing by offering us sweeties instead. Edmund means "the protector of riches." That's a fitting name to one who represents redemption and our family. His birth marks that our children, present and future, will always be valued higher than the sweeties of life. Our gold will be protected from the naysayers and the winds and waves that howl in opposition. He, the one born in the worst time possible (humanly speaking) signifies that we have learned our lesson well, we have understood because we have come to love beyond ourselves, and God has used our children, most of whom would not exist today if we had trusted in our own wisdom instead, to teach us that love. And that is a love we would not have known without them.

So I am thankful today for my children. Not just because we should thank God for family. But because God has saved, and is saving, me, a selfish man, through them. They are not just my children, but also a huge part of my sanctification, as I know they are for Allison as well. I am, of course, grateful to God for the woman, who long before she ever met me, decided to give such a difficult decision into God's hands. She is my partner in crime, a crime against the logic of the foolish world that sees children as a product of a mechanical machine rather than as a much needed, providentially decided, and vital gift toward our sanctification in love from the hand of God.

For these I am truly thankful, O God, Lord of all wisdom and understanding. Your ways are not our ways, and we have been blessed with riches that cannot be obtained by human hands alone. I thank You on this Thanksgiving Day for the love of Christ as I have come to understand it and have it cultivated by You through my wife and my children. Hallelujah. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Does the Oil in the "Parable of the Virgins" Represent?

The Gospel of Matthew is a sobering book for any Christian to read (just ask my old congregation at FKPCW, who had to endure a year of my preaching through it at the end of my ministry there). The first thing one must realize when he begins to read it though is that it is not a book about justification. Let me clarify that statement. It has implications for justification. It has implications for what kind of faith justifies us. But it doesn't deal specifically with justification itself. This is important to point out because many people read Matthew, or the Sermon on the Mount, as saying that what Christ commands is so great for us to fulfill that we can't do it, thus showing us our need for faith in Christ. That is absolutely a correct application of this passage, if Christ were speaking about how we might be justified. If that was his subject, then, of course, we would never make it. But that isn't his point, and that's not the focus of Matthew. The point of the Gospel of Matthew is to tell us what kind of faith saves us, not that faith saves us. Do you see the difference? One is talking about the nature of the means by which we are saved and the other is talking about the means by which we are saved. We are saved by faith, as we know from the rest of Scripture, but Matthew (like James) is focusing in on an important teaching that was very much a large part of Christ's ministry that explains to people who think they are saved by identifying themselves as God's servants, that true faith produces a change in one's life in terms of what he does (i.e., that faith works).

So, on the one hand, the Sermon on the Mount deals with people who think they are saved, but live their lives in disobedience to the will of God as it is revealed in Scripture (either in disobedience to its explicit commands, but more emphasizing the rebellious nature manifest within their seeking to only technically obey what is explicitly commanded while ignoring the underlying principles and implications of what is said). Hence, the Sermon on the Mount deals with sins that we often call sins of commission (i.e., sins that consist of evil things that we do, or sins of action).

On the other hand, as Matthew starts to end his presentation of Christ's teaching, he emphasizes sins of omission (i.e., sins that we commit by not doing good, or sins of inaction). That's what we have in Matthew 25, which together with the Sermon on the Mount functions as an inclusio, sandwiching the entire teaching of Christ in the Gospel together, and conveying to us the nature of true faith as one that produces both an abstention from sins of commission on the one hand and the doing of good on the other.

Most evangelicals miss this because they are busy thinking about Matthew in terms of justification (i.e., how we are saved) versus sanctification (i.e., what occurs when one is truly saved). So let's look at Matthew 25 for a moment. At the end of the chapter, in vv. 32-46, we have what is called the "Judgment of the Nations" passage, a name that often gives off the wrong impression to modern day interpreters, as this is really the judgment of the Christians of the nations, the reference to the nations functioning as a way to communicate to the Jewish people that God's kingdom includes the Gentiles (which is something Christ has been saying throughout). The terminology of sheep and goats deals, not with believers and unbelievers, as some suppose, but of professed believers, some of which are genuinely so (i.e., the sheep) and others who are not (i.e., the goats). Both of these animals exist in the same pastures. They hang out together.

Christ goes on to say that the distinction between them is that the one group (i.e., the sheep) does good (seeks to preserve the lives of their fellow Christians, e.g., by giving food, clothing, shelter, comfort in times of distress and hopelessness, etc.). The goats, on the other hand, are not in the practice of doing good. They are about their own lives, not the lives of others (as we also see from the Sermon on the Mount in a different way since people their are seeking to self-direct their lives rather than to give them up to someone else, specifically to Christ). There is no sense that these people ever belonged to Christ. They never had genuine faith. They were never saved. They only though they were because of their profession. But their profession did not manifest itself in the doing of good to fellow Christians (and this is specific to what is done to Christians, i.e., the least of "these brothers of Mine").

So what does this all tell us about the Parable of the Virgins? It tells us that this parable, as all of the parables, is about distinguishing true believers from false ones by looking at their fruits, specifically whether they do good to other Christians. Again, good isn't being nice. Don't confuse our modern concepts of superficial gestures that exist for ourselves with true good which is sacrificial and makes us bleed to do it. This is real good, the kind that truly seeks to preserve the lives of one's fellow Christians in tangible terms.

This is the context of the parable, and this then tells us what the oil that some have enough of, and others lack, represents. The oil is not the Holy Spirit, as some have suggested. That is not Matthew's point. It's absolutely true that the Holy Spirit's power and presence is needed to do good, and lack of good is lack of Spirit, but that is not Matthew's emphasis here specifically. His emphasis here is the doing of good or lack thereof, and hence, that is what the oil represents. It represents one's works of love.

Again, if one thinks Matthew is talking about justification, then that will be an alarming statement; but that is not his purpose. It is his purpose to say that those who have placed themselves under Christ's Lordship in faith do the things that evidence His Lordship (that should seem obvious, should it not?).

Hence, immediately after the Parable of the Virgins in the Parable of the Talents, which also represent the same thing (this is not a passage teaching us about investing our money, duh). The talents are like the oil, we are given opportunities to do good, and those who truly seek the will of the Master attempt to use those opportunities to do good. In other words, Christ has done good to us in His offer of salvation to us, as we are given opportunity to do good to others, we can either squander the good done to us selfishly or share it with other Christians, multiply it within the community. Hence, as Christ says in John, they will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. John tells us further in his first epistle that this love is seen in tangible terms (i.e., not just in feelings and words spoken, but also in deeds of doing good/preserving our fellow Christians' lives who are in need).

So the question becomes, Do you have sufficient oil? The parable warns us that Christ will return in one way or another and we will not have the opportunity to fill our lamps in the end. Our opportunity to do good is today, not tomorrow. Today He calls us to be faithful. Today He calls us to love. Today He calls us to the cross and to sacrifice and to the death to the self that doesn't want to give up its time and resources that it has preserved for itself.

The answer to an unfilled lamp is not going out and doing good in one's own power. We know from the rest of Scripture that provides context to the Gospel of Matthew itself that apart from Christ we can do nothing. It is abiding in Christ, who is the vine of true life, that gives us the love and power to overcome the fear of losing the self and gives us a love and fear to do what is good to others who represent Christ to us (as the phrase "the least of these" refers to the most insignificant of Christians--thus showing that any and every Christian represents Christ Himself). What we do to other Christians, we are doing to Christ (cf. Christ's statement to Paul, "Why are you persecuting Me," when Paul had never come into contact with Christ before personally). Would not the man who loved Christ give up all that he had if he saw Christ in need? But the man who does not figures someone else will do it, and makes excuses as to why he's justified in keeping these resources for himself.

Don't be caught with low oil in your lamp. Don't be caught without true faith. Ask yourself this question, and judge thyself, not thy neighbor, "If I were to die and come before Christ this very moment, would my life evidence true faith or false faith? Would it show my works to be an abstention from evil and the doing of good, or would it evidence nothing but sins of commission and omission?" Then please do what Christ commands in His very first opening statement of His preaching ministry within the Gospel of Matthew, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand" (4:17).

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Seven Deadly Sins of Preaching

If you want to commit the spiritual genocide of your congregation, try implementing these seven sins into your preaching:

 Ignoring the Context. Context is king. The Bible out of context allows for the preacher, how unintentional it may be, to manipulate what is said and to replace God’s inspired message with his own. The less context you use, the more likely it is that you will distort the text. This is why cults love to jump all over the Bible instead of staying in one place and talking about the legitimacy of their interpretations in light of the entire context of the book, pericope, paragraph, etc. The context will determine the meaning, and without it, one can make the Bible say anything. The preacher can still do this without going all over the Bible (I’ve seen people preach through an entire book and miss it because the analysis was so atomized it ended up ignoring the larger context sitting right in front of everyone), but it’s far more likely the case that the context will be ignored if one just quotes a passage and then quickly runs off to something else.

Misapplying the Bible. Sometimes it's where you end up rather than where you begin. Instead of asking if your pastor preaches the Bible, you might want to ask if your pastor is actually applying the Bible that was just preached. Applications today are wild and seemingly unchained from the direction of the passage. I’ve seen the passage say one thing and the pastor completely contradict what it says, as well as its implications (which should also be applied), with his application (even sometimes when his exegesis was sufficient). We should always be on guard in our hearing and listen for the applications that run with, or counter to, the actual text itself.

Using the Bible for Your Own Agenda. Who is being presented on stage? The Bible is an authoritative platform that is meant to be used among the faithful as the means to communicate and glorify God, but it is often used instead to give authority and glory to the preacher. His opening the Bible is simply the stage to exalt himself and build his cult following, as he feeds into the celebrity worship that his congregation is already giving him. The result is that the man, not Christ, as Christ truly is presented in Scripture, is lifted up.

Subtly Replacing the Biblical Message with Stories. Is it story time or Bible time? Using a text to fill in your stories is to preach human experience and not the Bible  Where our stories were once called “illustrations” and used as supportive material to help the listener understand the Biblical passage, the stories (a.k.a. “illustrations) today are meant to be the main argument and any Scripture cited is meant to simply help the listener understand what the preacher wants to say. He might have just as well cited Shakespeare or Lady Gaga. In essence, the Bible has become supportive material for the man inspired story rather than the man’s story existing to illustrate the divinely inspired text.

Training People to Be Seers rather than Hearers? Many pastors are attempting to feed into our false religion by convincing us with all sorts of arguments (biblical and unbiblical) of the truth of a biblical claim. What he should be doing instead is proclaiming the Word of God to the faithful and not worry so much about who believes and who doesn’t. Those who seek to understand in order to believe are not in submission to God's Word, but to their own experience. Attempting to always convince the congregation to have faith in what is said is teaching them that this posture is acceptable. Instead, they need to be taught that faith comes through hearing, not seeing and understanding for themselves before they will have faith in what is said. What they need to see is that the Bible teaches it. Whether they have a genuine faith that submits to it is the concern of the Holy Spirit. We need to stop trying to give understanding through sight and pray that the Holy Spirit gives it to people through faith instead. As such, sermons need to proclaim the Word of God, not be lectures that seek to convert the unconvertible.

Replacing a Genuine Spirit of Conviction with a Contrived Emotional Experience. Is it time for the altar call? Then it’s time to play the piano and pull those emotional strings. Is it time to preach? Then it’s time to jump up and down and get everyone emotionally pumped. "It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to meet the muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.” Is it showtime, time to be entertained, or is it time to present the truth of Scripture through various means (e.g., preaching, music, prayer, etc.) in order to invite the presence and work of the Holy Spirit into our lives as a congregation and as individuals in order to transform unholy thinking and unholy living into holy thinking and holy living? Too often in our culture we are seeking to manufacture false miracles (e.g., false conversions, false commitments, false spiritual experiences) through emotional manipulation. But becoming emotional and becoming spiritually mature are two different things. They both include emotion, but one is just emotion and nothing else.

Preaching Half Truths. Ah, the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. It is the spawning pool of all heresy. The preacher who is afraid to teach the whole counsel of God, because his congregation has not been culturally conditioned to accept certain uncommonly heard things from the Word of God. Hence, there might be severe consequences that take place if he tries to preach the whole counsel of God, so he becomes a preacher of half truths. And a preacher of half truths is a lying preacher. A half truth is not the whole truth, and as such, it is easily distorted into a full blown lie. As heresy emphasizes one truth to the exclusion of a qualifying truth, so this type of preaching creates theological and ethical hunchbacks that have turned the living God into a god of their own making with the help of lopsided preaching. It would be better to have no preacher at all than a preacher of half truths.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Was King David Gay?

One of the more redeeming gory movies of the nineties was "Braveheart." It had a great message, great cinematography, good acting (at least better than these sorts of movies often have), and was action-packed. But at the very beginning of the movie, there is an assertion about history that reflects a trend in modern historiography: deconstructionism/reconstructionism. This is the idea that all of history was written as propaganda for the winners, or even when sincere, it is only from the perspective of the winners who wish to paint themselves a certain way. In other words, we're not getting the actual story. The real story needs to be found in archaeology, snippets of true information that slipped past the author, or that he gave up as a concession to make a larger point about how great his side is. I have major issues with this trend, as I don't believe history can be known through these means, and what we often end up with is just an imaginative (and almost completely made up) retelling of the event that has no need of the event itself to exist. In other words, it's fictional storytelling, not an historical uncovering.

But this is what sells to modern academia, which is always looking to hear something new, as the Greeks on Mars Hill, and to the masses, who are always looking to throw off their external authorities, like the Bible and the Church, by rewriting the texts that support things that no longer accord with their modern religious identities. What is even better is to rewrite them to accord with those identities in order to turn the support they once gave to what opposes them into support for their modern theories and practices. What this often means is that the bad guys within the original story are often made into the good guys in our modern stories, or the good guys who would have condemned a particular practice that modern culture endorses are turned into the poster boys for it.

Hence, Jezebel was a strong woman, who was just painted as the bad guy in a patriarchal society that didn't like her assertive posture and strong push to make her husband a great man. To the modern reconstructionist historian, we should all want a wife and leader like Jezebel. Sure, Jezebel dominated Ahab, but that's what strong "women" do in our culture. Jezebel then becomes an icon to the modern pop-feminist.
In other instances, the women who were painted as strong women in Scripture because they were wise in their submission to male authorities in the original context, now are painted as manipulating those authorities within the system to gain power and influence within the modern reconstructions.

Likewise, when the Bible so strongly condemns a practice like homosexuality, modern reconstructionists, and lay groups alike, look for whatever they can to find any subversive element in the Bible that would support it instead. They supposedly find that in King David.

In Second Samuel 1:26, David is singing a lament psalm for Saul and Jonathan who have been killed in battle. Among the things he says of Jonathan, he proclaims:

 "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women. 

Another text tells us that David and Jonathan were as one soul:

  Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the  soul  of Jonathan was knit to the  soul  of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. (1 Sam 18:1)

Now, although this had always been read in the context of the entire Bible, the fragmented nature of modern interpretation allowed for reconstructionists to come in and assert that David here is actually indicating to us that he and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship. After all, this speaks of an intimacy between them. David calls him "brother," which in ancient Near Eastern love poems is what women call their lovers. David says that Jonathan has been pleasant to him. The word for "pleasant" is used in the Song of Songs in reference to the woman's lover. And David tells us that Jonathan's love was more wonderful [i.e., beyond what one could comprehend] than the love of women, where love supposedly refers to a relationship like men and woman have that includes sex and a physical desire for one another.

Sounds convincing, right? Not really. Here are the reasons why this is fallacious.

1. The context of David is that he loves the law and observes it wholeheartedly. As such David would observe the prohibitions against homosexuality, and see it as evil.
2. For those who see Leviticus as written after David, however, David would have had the understanding of sex as primarily (not solely) given to have children, and as such, would have still viewed homosexuality to have been evil, having known that it is incapable of producing children.
3. Intimacy in Scripture is not sexual intimacy. This is an important point, as we often interpret sex as a unifying factor of the soul between two individuals. In other words, we see sex as making us spiritually one with the other person (this is due to our romanticism and need to supply sex with a more spiritual meaning rather than one that just gives pleasure--we have to do this because we've removed the procreative aspect as primary in the sexual union). Hence, speaking of one intimately is a reference to a spiritual bond that one can have with or without the presence of the physical bond. The Bible simply does not see the two as necessarily linked.
4. Although familial terms like "brother" or "sister" are used in ancient Near Eastern love poetry, they're used to refer to any close friendships one might have, and it is for that reason that they are used in love poetry (the lover is declared as a friend to let us know that the two are not just seeking one flesh, but also to be united as one spirit. A good relationship is one where the person of the opposite sex is spoken of in spiritual terms because it conveys a close spiritual bond with the person the individual seeks a physical bond with as well. But, again, this is seen as something that is not linked to the physical bond, and thus, must be added to make a spiritual statement about the relationship. Note the likely use here in continuity with Proverbs 18:24, "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
5. The word for pleasant is used in Song of Songs, but it's also used in seven other contexts where it does not refer to sex, but only to something nice (e.g., a place to live in, etc.) that brings happiness to the soul. Transferring a sexual meaning that it may gain from one context to another is a semantic fallacy in linguistics, and as such, being that the present context is not about sex, it just means that Jonathan's friendship with David was something that he valued highly, as it brought the love of true friendship into his life.
6. The phrase that Jonathan's love was better to David than the love of women is not a sexual phrase. Again, we are imposing our modern terminology back onto the text. Love in the Bible almost never means sexual love. It has numerous connections to friendship and family though. It only rarely ever refers to sexual desire or romantic feelings in the Bible, where we in the modern day use it for that all of the time. However, I do think "love of women" here refers to sexual love. But this would mean that the love of Jonathan was a different type of love than the love of women, not the same thing, as David says that it was "more wonderful than," not the "same as." In fact, the mem partitive here indicates distinction from, not similarity to. Hence, David saying that his love is better than the love of women is actually saying that his friendship with Jonathan had more of an impact on his life than all of his romantic relationships.
7. This brings us to their souls being knit together. This is not a statement of sexual unity, but spiritual unity. Again, the phrase to refer to sexual unity is "one flesh," not "one spirit," which is why people are free to remarry after their spouse dies (the one flesh union is broken and thus the sexual bond is broken). Instead, if we look at the passage, this occurred when David had finished speaking to Saul, not as a result of a sexual encounter. It is the same as saying that they were kindred spirits. Again, this is a reference to their deep friendship and love for one another as best friends, not as lovers. Hence, it says that David loved Jonathan as he loved himself (i.e., he was a true friend).
What this all means is that the traditional interpretation that this is a song about a deeply held love for a best friend who has died is the correct one in context. It is not an expression of sexual or romantic love, as that would be expressed both in physical terms (primarily) and perhaps added spiritual terms of unity, not just spiritual terms of unity by themselves. Again, romantic love (as one has in love poems) are expressed in physical terms. The two becoming one flesh is a physical unity, not a spiritual one. The spiritual can be added, but it is added in friendship, not in the mere act of sex.

So there is actually nothing here to indicate any sort of homosexual relationship at all, simply because there is nothing here that indicates a physical relationship, or exclusively speaks of romantic feelings that would be indicated in the context of such a physical relationship. So, no, King David was not gay.

And this is important for us to understand for many reasons, one of which is that the purpose of sex itself isn't to gain spiritual intimacy with one's partner. One can gain spiritual intimacy with one's partner in the act of sex only when adding it. It does not automatically come with it on its own (an important clarification with implications for marriage as well).

In any case, it is a sad day when such a beautiful portrayal of friendship is twisted to support a modern political agenda, and is, thus, ruined in the process. And I can't help but feel that this is perhaps a true instance of a homophobic tendency in our culture to paint anything that expresses love and spiritual intimacy between two people of the same gender as "gay." Perhaps, the modern reconstructionist, in his support of homosexuality has simply adopted the fearful tendency to act macho in our modern culture in order to paint anything that is not macho as having a homosexual tendency. But homosexuality is not to be feared, lest we distort the nature of the spiritual intimacy we are meant to have with one another. It is to be rejected, because it works against the procreative command and is therefore evil. In other words, it is the physical sexual act, and the romantic feelings that would seek that act, that is homosexual and evil. Seeking spiritual intimacy, a bonding of brotherhood, a love that makes us one soul, is a human thing. One is evil and the other is good. Let's not confuse them, lest we distort this text and be lost in the confusion that is modern manhood. The modern reconstructionist that seeks to support homosexuality, then, is actually doing himself a disfavor by rehashing those stereotypes that label such language as "gay," and he is involved in a dubious enterprise that would distort the original text by taking it out of its context, and retelling the story, as it were, to fit his modern narrative in discontinuity with the biblical one that would condemn such a practice.

In any case, we ought to remember that biblical history is in fact written by the winners, and that Winner is God. I don't think trusting in a modern reconstructionist, therefore, is the way to go, simply because the trend in our culture has gotten steam and seeks to take over HisStory, since "no matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it" (my favorite "Mulan" quote).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Does God Hear the Prayers of the Unrepentant? An Argument against Non-Lordship Salvation

I liked the movie, Invictus, except for the phrase repeated by Mandela that says, "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul." To be sure, it's the cat's meow to a society built strong on secular humanism and narcissism, but the Christian life is one of sacrificing that head position in my life to the One who loved me and died for me (Gal 2:20).

There are many debates one encounters at Bible college. Among the numerous debates in which I was involved at Moody, the one that always perplexed me was the lordship debate. What it entailed was whether one needed to seek to receive Christ as the Lord of his life, or just receive Him as Savior with the hopes of receiving Him as Lord at some time in the future. The issue was over whether one could actually be justified apart from turning away from a self-directed life. This is a debate conjured up by fundamentalists who don't seem to understand that grace has a means through which it comes. I had a professor who believed that one could say a prayer for salvation at one point in his life, and then turn to reject Christ for the rest of his life, and yet, still be saved. This, for sure, is a bit of an extreme position, and I doubt most non-lordship types would accept this. However, the fundamental issue remains that if one can be saved apart from submitting his life to Christ's direction, why does he have to obey Christ's command to believe? Isn't that an act of submission to Christ's Lordship? In any case, the non-lordship position ignores something that I think is key to the whole debate, and that is that God doesn't hear any prayer that is spoken by the unrepentant. He simply doesn't respond to it by giving what is requested. As such, a request for salvation is never granted to the unrepentant.

First Peter 3:12 states that "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
We are also told in First Peter that if a supposedly Christian man abuses his wife, his prayers will be prevented from reaching God's ears.
Psalm 66:18 states that "if I see rebellion [i.e., self-direction] in my mind, The Lord will not listen [to me]."
We are told in Isaiah 59:2 that God is able to save, but doesn't because "your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden [His] face from you, so that He does not hear [you]."
In John 9, the Pharisees are arguing with the (now healed) blind man about Christ's holiness. The Pharisees argue that Christ is a sinner, but the blind man retorts: "We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will, He listens to him" (v. 31).

Again, look at the way God considers the prayers of the unrepentant:

I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, When your dread comes like a storm, And your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, When distress [and] anguish come on you. "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord. "They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. "So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, And be satiated with their own devices. (Prov 1:26-31)

Now, you may think that these are all about people who have never entered into a type of relationship with Christ, i.e., they are unbelievers in the sense that they do not believe the gospel; but most of these are actually to people who are supposedly saved. In other words, these are statements about people who would consider themselves a part of God's community, who think themselves to be in relationship with God.

So what does this mean? Well, first, it means that prayers of those who are not seeking to live under Christ's lordship are not heard. These people have no access to God. Access to demons who pretend to be in God's place in order to further deceive the unrepentant? Yes. Access to the true and living God? No.

But what does this mean for the lordship/non-lordship debate? It means that any prayer for salvation that does not include within it the intention to turn away from a self-directed/self-centered life to a life under Christ's rule IS NOT HEARD BY GOD! (I thought that qualified well as an uppercase moment.) Please get that. A prayer to make Jesus your Savior without attempting to make Him your Lord is not a prayer that is heard by God. What does that mean? It means that your prayer of salvation wasn't ever granted. You're not saved (at least until you do repent). If you have never prayed such a prayer of repentance, then your "sinner's prayer" will not help you. You are not saved. This is yet another reason why telling people to say a sinner's prayer that does not include a true desire to turn away from a godless life to a Christ-filled life is a symptom of false Christianity.

Now, let me clarify something, as you may think that you have prayed such a prayer in asking God to forgive you of your sins; but that too is deceptive. The repentance described in these passages is a turning away from a self-directed life to a Christ-directed one, not just asking for individual sins to be abolished. So repentance is not just saying sorry for Sin X or Y, but a turning over of one's life to God's direction. Look at the text of Proverbs. Why does God not hear them: "Because they hated knowledge [i.e., the truth derived from God's revelation], And did not choose the fear of the Lord [i.e., to place themselves under God's authority]. "They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof." So this is talking about what these people do, what characterizes their lives.

What does this mean for the rest of us, who clearly are not perfect and sin? Well, it means that our lives are to be lived in seeking God's direction, what is good and right, and when we fall, to seek God in repentance in order that His authority might be restored over us. In other words, the Christian wants to have God rule over them. They hate that they are continually duped into falling back under their own self-direction. They still do it, but when discovered, they seek God out quickly in order that He might be glorified and have the rightful place of the Director of their lives. The unrepentant just don't want to go to hell. The unrepentant just want to be forgiven, but don't want a life that is ruled by Christ, who is the rightful King of us all. It is their prayers that go unanswered.

Look at the example of the publican and the sinner. Both come to God to pray, but only the one who comes in repentance (as opposed to the one who thinks he's "good" with God already) is forgiven. Christ tells us that the other one is not. This is also why the Lord's Prayer contains a phrase to forgive others as we seek to be forgiven, because "if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive you." In other words, not forgiving is a symptom of a self-directed life that refuses to dismiss what God dismisses. It still clings to its own rights and wants its own justice. God is not king of that person.

So what does this mean for the debate? It means the non-lordship position isn't just wrong, it's a false gospel. It creates, and has created, millions of false Christians in our world, and it needs to be rejected. It has damned countless people, many of whom, no doubt, have already gone on to stand before Christ to hear the words, "I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt 7:23). Notice that these people were heavily involved even in ministry, yet, they never entered a relationship with Christ where He was their Lord, the One who sat as the authority over their daily lives, and apparently, according to this passage, that is the only type of relationship that Christ will accept as legitimate.

Now, perhaps, my saying that the non-lordship position is a false gospel sounds harsh to you, but let me just say this: We are dealing with people's lives. This isn't a game to be played, so that you can inflate your numbers so that you can feel successful in terms of God using you to save people. God's requirement of us is that we preach the real gospel and leave the rest to Him. We don't need to be Billy Graham. We just need to be faithful to the message that is actually going to save people as opposed to the one that will get more visible converts, but damn people in the end. We ought to be in the role of seeking to save, not seeking to damn by presenting a half truth as a whole truth, and that is what the non-lordship position is. Yes, Christ is Savior, but He is Savior because He is Lord. He saves all that He owns, because He is saved. What He does not own cannot be saved with Him. And one whose life is still self-directed is not owned by Him. That is why He says to the masses, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord', and do not do what I say?" Read Matthew 25 (the whole thing) and tell me if you think that all of those who consider Christ as their Lord, but have never repented to their lives directed by Him are saved? No condemnation of this gospel I could muster would ever be so loud as Christ's words that He never knew these people ringing out as the door slams closed.

So please don't consider yourself a Christian, i.e., one who is saved, if you have continued to be the "captain of your soul," and never intended in the prayer (or have since given up the intent) to hand over your life to the real Captain. That was a prayer given in non-repentance, and as such, was a prayer never heard or answered. And if not answered, what was requested (i.e., salvation) was never given.

If you find yourself in that position today, please consider giving over your life to Christ for the first time. Consider repenting and becoming a Christian. Place your life in the hands of Christ, your faith allegiance into the only One who has the right to direct you. Either way, know that the real Christian message that apparently you didn't hear, or disregarded, is, and has always been, "Repent, for the kingdom [i.e., rule] of God is at hand [i.e., set before you to receive].

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, `Thus says the Lord God, " Repent  and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations. "For anyone of the house of Israel or of the immigrants who stay in Israel who separates himself from Me, sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and [then] comes to the prophet to inquire of Me for himself, [as if] I the Lord will be brought to answer him in My own person. "I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from among My people. So you will know that I am the Lord. (Ezek 14:6-8)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Of Myths and History: Clarifying a Myth about Myth

In my book, Revisiting the Days of Genesis, I ask the question as to whether Genesis 1-11 is history or myth. My answer to this question is, Yes. But let me explain some things first, as I say in the book that I don't even like to use the term "myth" because so many people misunderstand it. I prefer using "symbolic representation," and hope that sticks, but occasionally, I have to use it to clarify something to other scholars (as it is the language that has been largely adopted in these settings).

First, the word "myth" is used differently in scholarly circles than it is in lay circles. "Myth" does not refer to what is false. Although there seem to be as many definitions as there are scholars, the basic idea in most of the definitions is that myth is a way to describe an event or phenomenon in symbolically supernatural terms (as opposed to describing them in literally supernatural terms). The truth of those supernatural events is left up to the belief of the reader, but myth itself is a genre of literature that paints the event in terms of the supernatural. It can do so because the event is supernatural, or it can paint an ordinary (to the average eyes) event as supernatural. Hence, natural phenomena are often depicted in the ancient Near Eastern world in mythic terms, because the ancients believed all things were supernatural (in the sense that natural and supernatural are not separate categories in the ancient mind) and thus, commonly natural things can be depicted in supernatural terms. Likewise, all history is supernatural in the same way, not because history is not natural, but because the ancients do not divide between the two as we do.

Hence, "myth" refers to a description of supernatural events and events that are described supernaturally. In other words, one can find the causes in the natural world and its events and focus upon that (which is more what we would consider history in our day) or one can find the causes of the natural world and its events in the metaphysical/supernatural realm and focus in on that (which is what scholars usually mean by "myth" in our day), or one can discuss the natural world and its events in terms of both. I believe Genesis 1-11 discusses the natural world and its events as a mixture of both, as this is important to the theology that the entire Book of Genesis (if not the entire Bible) teaches us about God and His working both beyond (without or against nature and natural events) and within the world (within nature and natural events).

So when I use the term "myth," I'm not referring to the truth or falsity of the Genesis account. I obviously believe in inspiration and inerrancy, and thus, am committed to its absolute truthfulness in everything that it asserts. But it doesn't necessarily assert what many people think it does, simply because their categories of myth and history are off base.

To be sure, some scholars think that anything supernatural is false, just as laymen do, but this is a value judgment based upon one's faith, not a scholarly opinion. A scholar ought to keep himself to the scholarly task of observation in letting the text he is studying speak for itself. Whether he believes it or not is something outside the text itself, and as such, is not helpful in understanding it.

However, my concern is for fundamentalists and evangelicals who take the mythic descriptions as historical descriptions (in our modern sense). In other words, those things that are meant to be described as symbolic representations of supernatural things (or even things/events unknown to the human author) are taken literally as historical description that is being asserted by the text, and hence, it must be defended to the end.

If myth is a genre to explain content, not a judgment concerning the truth or falsity of the content, then the practice to take those symbolic representations that paint a theological picture out of an event should not be taken as a literal picture depicting the event as though it was described in such a way as if you were standing there watching it happen yourself. I do think that our need to recreate the event, rather than let the text interpret the event becomes a massive wall to our understanding the text at this point, since I want to experience the event as God experienced it, rather than trust God to describe it to me in a way that I cannot experience for myself, but only can grasp the basic truth of its existence and any truths that God may be teaching me from the presentation and application of the actual event in symbolic terms.

But this sounds all so very "theorish," so let me use a text to explain it.

In Exodus 14:19-22, we have the supernatural event described in what we would describe as more of an historical-narrative:

And the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea [back] by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters [were like] a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Notice that this is still a supernatural event, but it's spoken in such a "matter of factly" fashion, with only the sea being split as anything that could be construed as symbolic, but it would be wrong to take here as such simply because the narrative does not evidence itself to be a symbolic representation of the event, but an actual depiction.

Now, let's look at the second description of the event in Exodus 15:8-12:

"And at the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up, The flowing waters stood up like a heap; The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea. "The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand shall destroy them.'  "Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters. "Who is like Thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? "Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, The earth swallowed them.

Notice the difference here. This is in a song filled with ancient Near Eastern symbolism that is reminiscent of the Storm god myth in the ancient Near East who is a warrior (see v. 1-3, where YHWH is described as and called a warrior). The Babylonian Storm god, Marduk, fights Tiamat (the personified abyss who represents chaos), splits her in half, and begins to create the world through her. Notice the connections as well with Genesis 1, where God splits the sea and creates dry ground. Scholars have noted for some time that the Exodus here is being described in terms of what is called the chaoskampf motif, where creation occurs through a battle with forces that present themselves in opposition to the creator deity. He overcomes them and creates the world. In this case, however, the event is being described in terms of YHWH creating His people, a nation for Himself. In other words, the symbolic representations that are taken from common symbols found in mythic literature within the ancient Near East are used to interpret the event as an act of creation on God's part. They are not meant to be taken as literal, as though God actually rides horses, sneezes on the water, or literally melts the Canaanites with this event (the enemy here isn't even the inhabitants of Canaan that the song describes). Instead, this is meant to be a theological text about God creating His people. Does it contain the event as history? Yes, it's not a different event than that depicted in Chapter 14, but the description of the event no longer serves in Chapter 15 as a means to recreate the event, but as a means to communicate a theology using the event as the starting point (of course, one could argue that Chapter 14 is also not recreating the event, but telling us what to believe about it). In other words, if we were to take what is symbolic as a literal depiction of what happened, we would not only have an odd view of God and what He did, but we would miss the awesome theology that the text seeks to teach us through mythic language.

Now, fortunately for Exodus 14 and 15, everyone can see that one is in historical-narrative and one is in a song (i.e., poetry). Unfortunately, for the modern reader, the genre of Genesis 1-11 is not so easily detected, although for the ancient reader who is familiar with the imagery, it's not quite as difficult as it for us. What may help us detect the same type of symbolic presentation as that described above, however, is to see the same event described in two different ways. We have that in Genesis 1 and 2, but many just see these as complimentary descriptions (i.e., literal recreations of the event) of creation. So what will really help us is to see if the two contradict one another in their details. If they do, that will help us understand that perhaps these two accounts are not meant to describe creation to us, but are meant to teach us something theological through the event of creation (an event that is not known to the human author).

We find this in certain details like the time of creation. It takes seven days to create the world in Genesis 1, whereas it only takes one day to create it in Genesis 2 (see Revisiting the Days, 70-98 for a discussion concerning why bĕyôm cannot be taken as a longer period of time than a single day). Where the plants and animals are made before man is created in Genesis 1, they are created after him in Genesis 2. Yet, they are created before the woman in Genesis 2. 

The details just don't match up for one to take these as recreations or literal descriptions of the actual creation event (a supernatural event indeed). Instead, the two texts seek to convey numerous aspects of theology, governed by the idea that Genesis 1 is creation from God's transcendent perspective and Genesis 2 from man's finite perspective. God speaks and creation comes into existence in Genesis 1, but in Genesis 2, God makes things directly with His hands. He is called Elohim in Genesis 1, the transcendent deity who is above His creation, but in Genesis 2, He is called YHWH Elohim, and works within it and through it. Hence, the image of the temple is cosmic in Genesis 1, as it conveys God's complete rule over the entire universe, without challenge, but Genesis 2 (and beyond) presents the garden as the local temple within a creation where chaos still exists, because YHWH works to fight it from the inside. Hence, the elements presented are meant to employ specific imagery that paint each picture, one of the transcendent sovereign and one of the warrior-God who fights to overcome chaos and gain sovereignty over it. This has important implications for the theology of Genesis that conveys that it is through YHWH's struggling with, through, and against us that His sovereignty over creation is accomplished (50:20). In other words, it is through the creation of Genesis 2 that we arrive at the creation of Genesis 1. The imagery is employed to communicate that important point, not to recreate an event that we may never understand. 

The event itself, of course, really occurred. I disagree with anyone who argues that because the event is described in mythic terms, the event is a myth within itself (i.e., the event never actually happened in time and space). I think that is equally a confusion between language and content, as well as a failure to see myth employed to describe something real, not something made up. In other words, the very presence of myth, especially in a type of historical narrative structure, implies the existence of the natural world and natural event it seeks to describe in those terms. As such, myth assumes history. It does not discard it. Hence, I see the historical structure intact, as I would see the historical structure in Exodus 14 intact when reading Exodus 15. To deny the history because of the presence of mythic language utilized in its description is like denying the existence of the sun because myth is used to describe it. It's simply a bogus practice to do such a thing. Hence, a claim of historical events is still being made. It's just that more is being made than just a claim of history, and less is being made than the idea that the text seeks to literally depict the event as it occurred in real time. That is not it's purpose, and a failure to understand this has a good chance in resulting in specifically disbelieving the Bible's teachings while generically affirming the truth of them. 

In the end, I remain in the dark concerning the literal unfolding of the actual event, precisely because my role is not to know the event as God has known it, but to trust in the history and lessons thereof in which God wants me to trust. So is Genesis 1-11 myth or history? Yes.